By Michael Roberts –
With the growth of Western civilization from the 16th century onwards and its sweeping sway in the world today, we have seen the power vested in the individual atom known as “man” in its non-gendered sense. Individuation, and its blood-brother, egoism, is the warp and woof of everyday living in most parts of the world and is most pronounced in the states identified with the “West.”
It is imprinted and glorified in many sports competitions: say, surfing, marathon-running, motor-cycling, gymnastics, et cetera. Its imprint has been expanded by new technology such as skateboards and fancy bikes. There are also age-old sports which sustain the emphasis on intense individual action: for instance, fishing and hunting.
In some nations, as we know, the rifle and revolver hold a hallowed place as an essential instrument of one’s lifeworld for a significant proportion of the population. This holds true for many parts of USA and Canada, while Australia hosts a political party known as the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party. It is perhaps no coincidence that the expressions of “White racism” emanate most strongly from within such entities.
Brenton Tarrant, the mass murderer at Christchurch in March 2019, is clearly one such White racist – alas one who has been under the radar of security networks. But he is clearly an individual proficient in the use of modern video technology to advertise Self and Cause. In targeting mosques and persons of the Islamic faith, he has also set himself up as a forceful answer to the spate of extremist Islamic attacks in many parts of Western Europe in recent years — with, say, the bomb placed by Salman Abedi at the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester on 22nd April 2017 serving as our illustration. We are only too aware that extremists at one end of the pole promote extremists at the other end – just visit Sri Lankan history over the last seventy years for proof.
So: we now have fanatical extremists at opposite ends of the divide setting Islam vs the Christian West. In numerical terms they may be few — but they are deadly given their access to guns, video, tweets and other social media.
Where the Atom becomes God Almighty
In pursuing their causes these extremists have assumed the position of God Almighty, namely, exercising the power to take lives. Before we get trapped in the study of extremist causes, however, we must pause and turn our gaze on the recent instances of mass killings without a specific cause. Take the instance of the 64-year old Stephen Paddock who took a range of automatic weapons into his suite at a Las Vegas hotel and on 1st October 2017 fired systematically at a crowd of country music fans in the plaza below, killing 58 and wounding another 400 or so. The fans included Hispanics, Blacks, and Whites – Americans all. Paddock had no political cause. He seems to have been an embittered man. He became a killing God, denying life to unidentified others – assisted, of course, by the resources enabled by USA’s gun culture. Just look at the armaments spread across his room.
It is too easy to point one’s fingers at those immersed in the world of guns and sporting pastimes dependent on guns. I pause here to remind myself – and thereby all readers – of my life world as a young boy and teenager in the age bracket 10-16 in the town of Galle. Neither my household or that of my middle-class friends in the suburb known as “The Fort” owned guns. But as youngsters we played cowboys and crooks, watched cowboy films and war movies. For my part I poured over the tales and pictures of World War Two in the London illustrated News stocked at St. Aloysius College Library. I read war stories such as those focused on “Biggles.” I watched many war films, with Audie Murphy in his roles as a GI serving as my favourite fare.
So, I was intensely engaged in a vicarious form of make-believe gun culture.
The question, then, is this: did that make-believe world ingrain a capacity to take another life in pursuit of a good cause? That is, did it insinuate a capacity to play God? My firm answer is “Yes.”
The caution introduced by this biographical interlude should enter our reflections on the interplay between egoism, individuation, gun culture and extremist political projects, whether White racist, Islamic or nationalist. The Las Vegas Case is a salutary warning in this regard. One can play God and deny life to many just because you are furious with self and world …. And have access to the wherewithal of mass death.
The Treadmill as Engine of Self-Absorption
In highlighting activities that have generated and sustained egoism and individuation, let me add the related concept of “self-absorption.” While this is implicated in several of the sporting activities that I have marked above, it is also encouraged by (A) the worldwide participation in selfies promoted by modern phone and photographic technology; and (B) the expansion of gyms in towns, cruise ships and hotels – gyms that sustain pursuits of physical fitness through such ‘gadgets’ as treadmills.
Reflect awhile on the treadmill — with an individual as often as not wearing earphones playing music and stepping forth purposefully in the work of sustaining his or her body. What dedication! What commitment to sustained boredom! What commitment to self! Having committed myself to such a task on the odd occasion (usually on ship or river cruises (when I had nought to do and no tennis court nearby), I cannot think of a more boring and more self-absorbing activity.
So: do these strands of activity and interaction in the modern world contribute to the deepening of individuation to the extreme point which leads X or Y to play God – eliminating enemy entities in the manner Tarrant and the manner Salman Abedi, or just anyone in the manner Paddock?
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 The widespread criticism of security agencies seems ill-advised. They cannot keep tabs on every which person.